Thursday, July 26, 2012

THE NO HELLOS DIET, by Sam Pink

The No Hellos Diet

I read this book today at work. It took me about three hours, and would have taken less time but I kept making myself put the book down for a minute, to slow down, so as not to miss things. Part of the quickness of the read is because the book keeps you turning pages. Part of it is because the book is very short--81 pages of text, probably like 30K words--too short in my mind to be considered a true novel. And part of it is because the level of language is pretty basic--short sentences, minimal description, limited vocabulary--you never really have to work hard to understand anything.

That said, I think it's a great book, with occasional moments of brilliance, and just a few fumbles. I've read three books and one chapbook by Sam Pink, and I think this is the best of them all.

Basically, it strikes me as a well-crafted existential novel, reminiscent in places of The Stranger by Albert Camus, but effectively capturing the typical existence of today. The protagonist--a vaguely sketched "you"--goes through month after month of meaninglessness, often wondering whether being alive is appreciably better than being dead. He gets no particular joy from anything, and feels no sense of connection with anyone, but isn't particularly lonely or sad, either. He works a low-pay, un-fulfilling job, but he doesn't suffer from it because there's nothing he'd rather do with his time, anyway. He's too apathetic to feel oppressed, and therefore there is no meaning in his oppression. He's just there, passing time.

While that might sound like a boring premise, the book is actually pretty amusing. Sam Pink has an excellent eye for the absurdities of our daily lives--somehow he clearly sees the relentless, glaring stupidity that we take for granted--example: a candy wrapped in a "neon-colored package with a small monster--eyes coming out of its skull--looking at the words 'MEGA STICK'". He's also got a bizarre/perverse imagination that leads to some stunningly original thoughts--like what would happen if the taffy candy in that MEGA STICK package was so sticky it pulled all the teeth out of your head, and then you'd "just stand there holding a drooping piece of taffy studded with teeth". And his ear for dialogue is wonderful, capturing a variety of dialects and accents, revealing conversations that are completely ridiculous and utterly believable. You might even LOL once or twice while you read this book; at the very least, Pink is way funnier, and funner, than Albert Camus.

The main downside is that, for the most part, the novel never goes anywhere. There is a hint of development in the protagonist's physical condition--his ear infection that get's worse, his developing dizziness and discomfort with bright lights and blaring sound--but it isn't pursued to any significant extent. Then again, in a book that focuses on the meaninglessness of life, having a plot that never really goes anywhere might just be the whole point.

P.S. On a different topic: might be a bit prudish or oversensitive of me, but the name of this press makes me leery.  If you're a sheltered young American who's never had the misfortune of actually dealing with authentic fascists, the word "fascist" might seem like a fun word to use lightly.  But for the millions of people in the world who've had immediate family killed by fascists, the word has very real significance.

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